Darebin Council has refused the majority of my recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request regarding Clements Reserve, Reservoir.
The text below is my application to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner for a review of the decision. I have omitted the attachments due to size constraints with the exception of emails dating back to June/August 2020 when councillors were first told about the contamination (posted at the end of this page).
The warning signs and fencing shown in this photo were put up in late 2021
Why do I want the information and what will I do with it?
I am a citizen journalist and have used FOI to challenge City of Darebin decisions around State Government land disposal offers within the municipality over the past six years. It is my intention to use the FOI information to write a third installment in a series of articles about the delayed acquisition of Clements Reserve, which is environmentally and recreationally significant creek side parkland in Reservoir. This article will continue the theme of previous articles regarding transparency and accountability in decision-making within Darebin Council. It will also try to objectively assess the public health risk posed by lead and asbestos contamination on the site. In short, I seek the release of the 156 refused documents in the public interest.
My previous articles about the land are here (and in Attachments 2 & 3):
Darebin Council was offered first right of refusal by VicRoads to purchase the land in 2015 but failed to do so. It subsequently attempted to acquire the land in 2018 but had still not done so by 2020 due to a series of administrative and policy failings within Council which I have documented in my articles.
Throughout 2021, I sought an answer to why there was a continued delay in purchasing the land. My questions and Darebin Council’s responses are set out in online diary entries dated 27 September 2021; 26 July 2021; 15-23 June 2021; 24 May 2021; 26 April 2021 here:
The most I was told was that Darebin Council was seeking Town Planning advice and had not yet sought a new Valuer General valuation which is a necessary precursor to such acquisitions. Presumably the Town Planning advice was in relation to asbestos and lead contamination on the site.
What documents do I need reviewed?
I have received 35 documents in part and do not need these to be reviewed, or any of the 46 listed duplicate documents. Most of the partially released documents are trivial in nature and are about scheduling meetings, and scheduling Council agenda items. I have been refused 156 documents in full and would like all these documents reviewed for release.
On 23 December 2021 (at the 6pm meeting), Darebin councillors voted unanimously in favour of the following notice of motion:
Resolves to publicly release the detailed site investigation report which details the
presence of asbestos and lead hotspots in Clements Reserve in the interest of community safety and in accordance with our Council’s commitment to being an environmentally conscious and open and transparent elected body.”
The site investigation report referred to in this motion is likely to be listed as document 238 (425 pages long) in the Schedule of Documents (the Schedule) provided to me with Darebin Council’s Notice of Decision on 20 December 2021 (Attachment 9). Within the Schedule, it is impossible to identify the nature of the documents which are being refused, and none of the refused documents have dates listed.
The minutes of the 23 December 2021 meeting will be posted on Darebin Council’s website here in January but can be confirmed with a Council Governance Officer at any time.
What am I seeking from the decision? What information do/don’t I need?
I am seeking to have Darebin Council’s FOI decision overturned and for all the remaining 156 documents to be released to me, other than personal affairs information of third parties, and exempt or irrelevant information which I agree may be edited out of the documents.
I request that each document be given a dual assessment as follows:
(1) Should it have been released as per my original FOI request dated 6 September 2021, and my supplementary request on 7 October 2021 (Attachment 8)?
(2) Should it be released now because circumstances have changed with the pending release of the site investigation report following the 23 December 2021 Darebin Council meeting?
In support of (1) above I note that:
(a) I have been in possession of information about the site contamination for some time, as it was released on 28 January 2021 as part of my first FOI about Clements Reserve (Attachment 4). In fact, it was my partner, Terry Mason, who originally reported the asbestos contamination to Darebin Council, most recently together with me on 17 June 2020 (Attachment 5).
(b) Prior to my FOI being decided there was an Agenda Item 8.9 on 25 October 2021 (Attachment 6) where the site contamination was publicly reported.
(c) It is already public knowledge that Darebin Council has placed its offer for the site at $1.18 million whereas the Department of Transport has said that it would consider an offer of $1.97 million (plus GST) as shown in Agenda Item 7.7 on 7 September 2020. Therefore, the release of the documentation will not compromise sale negotiations which are, in any case, framed by well-known State Government land disposal parameters (Attachment 7).
In support of (2) above I note that:
(a) Given that the entire report on the site contamination will shortly be released to the public there can be few matters left that would be considered confidential for the purposes of Sections 125 and 38 of the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic).
29 December 2021